THE HISTORY OF ST EDBURGHA'S CHURCH

History

St Edburgha’s Church is a medieval church located in the Old Yardley conservation area, a survival of the original village and rural setting that existed from ancient times to the early 20th century. Yardley was first recorded in a charter of 972 and is listed in the Domesday Book. It was part of Worcestershire until 1911 when it became part of Birmingham. The church is Grade I listed, falling within the top 2.5% of all listed buildings nationally, and considered to be of exceptional architectural and historic interest, and also 1 of only 18 Grade I listed churches in the Diocese of Birmingham. The building comprises of a 13th century Chancel, 14th century Nave and transepts and a late 15th century North Aisle, Tower and Spire. Apart from the vestry, added in 1890 when the chancel East wall was rebuilt, and the 20th century boiler house the outside of the church retains its appearance and floorplan from the time of the completion of the tower and spire in the late 15th century. 


The earliest documented date of the Church is 1187 but it could be even earlier at 1165. The South wall of the chancel is the oldest remaining part of the church and the stonework is “rubblework” thought to be constructed from sandstone obtained locally from Shard End;  the rest of the sandstone is said to come from Maxstoke quarry.  This dates from the original early church building of the 13th century.  The south wall of the chancel contains a very narrow lancet window flanked by a c15 2-light window and there is an ogee arched doorway. There is a matching lancet window set into the 19th century vestry wall and it appears to have been moved across from the original chancel wall during restorations. The windows in the Nave South wall are c14, and there are matching windows in the North aisle so they were probably re-set during the building of the North Aisle. So too are the similar two-light windows in the North aisle, re-set probably from the former nave wall. 


The South doorway is 13th century and the timber-framed porch is 15th century with a restored 19th century base. The church was enlarged in the 14th century when the north and south transepts were added and the nave largely rebuilt.  Set in the North wall is a Tudor doorway above which are carved a Tudor rose and a pomegranate. This was to commemorate the wedding of Katherine of Aragon and Arthur the elder brother of Henry VIII in 1501. The tower, of the c15, is 67 feet high, crenelated, in 4 stages and with diagonal buttresses.  The crocketed hexagonal spire is 82 feet high and is a local landmark set as it is on a high point. It is thought to be the work of Henry Ulm who was also responsible for the spires and towers of Kings Norton and Coleshill. The spire was restored in 2011 and the tower in 2013. There is a peal of 8 bells the oldest dating from 1638. The bell frame was restored in the 1950’ s. 


The ringing chamber was built in 1891 when the 1823 gallery was removed thus exposing the view of the West window. The main door of the church is  the West door restored as part of the 1891 restorations. There is a First World War memorial plaque on the South wall of the tower.  On the  South wall inside the tower are some masons' marks from its construction in the 15th century.  


The Nave and the North aisle are seated with oak pews installed in 1861 during church renovations.  Aris Birmingham Gazette reported in July 1861  ‘The works include new seats throughout (except the chancel), in a substantial, though plain style, worked in English oak……..The amount expended in the work has been upwards of £800 and the whole has been substantially executed by Mr. John Corbett,  of this town, from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. Yeoville Thomason, architect, Bennett's Hill.’  


The pews are fitted with painted numbered doors.  Later renovations have disturbed the sequence of the numbering.  The walls are also clad with planking throughout to the same height as the pews, forming a wainscoting for the nave and the North Aisle.  Over time pews and cladding have been removed, notably for the organ pit (1950’s), the crossing re-ordering of the 1960’s, the Gilby Chapel and bookshelf  and creche area at the rear of the North Aisle (1970’s)     The majority of the walls are plastered and painted white.  There is thought to be a fragment of decorated walls discovered in the 1861 and 1926 renovations, but there is no visible evidence.  Aris Gazette in 1861 reported ‘On taking off the numerous layers of whitewash from the walls, the entire surface was found to have been decorated, temp. James I., with Scriptural texts and the peculiar scroll ornaments of the period. Below this were the remains of former decorations, evidently of the fourteenth century work, but in a state of mutilation which made them illegible - traces of decorative painting appeared on all the piers and arches.’  No such fragment remains visible today.  There is evidence of the pews in the north Aisle being added to at a later date when the North Door was sealed off,  probably in the 1890 renovations. Newer pews in the same style as the 1861 original were put in to make the North side of the aisle a solid bank of pews.  


The roof is oak and was constructed in 1926 when the original roof was discovered to be infested with death watch beetle. The original handmade tiles were re-used on the nave.  Heraldic shields depicting the history of Yardley were placed in the chancel at this time and a stone carved list of the vicars was placed in the tower.  The flooring is tiled with Victorian decorated glazed tiles. The original tiles were re-discovered when the 1960’s wooden floor was removed in 2014.   The only remaining section of that carpet and wooden floor is evident in the Gilby Chapel.  In the chancel are three floor slabs, and a large monument in the south of the chancel commemorates Henry Greswolde, rector of Solihull, Warwick, and precentor of Lichfield, who died in 1700. To the north of the east window is a tablet erected by John Dodd in 1690 to various members of his family.